Interviewed by Luke Vidamour, 23rd November 2020
In my early teens, I watched a misogynistic and inebriated Mel Gibson don women's tights, cake himself in tacky mascara, and wax his legs to the point of a near-death experience where he woke up on a telepathic journey of self-discovery culminating in a sensitive yet heroic understanding of What Women Want and a cracking headline.
I was sold on working in advertising. But how could I catch a break? Fortunately, my sister was able to get me a work experience placement shadowing Guernsey's answer to Mel Gibson, Tom Langford, when I was 18. That incredibly meaningful week profoundly changed my life and would ignite a passion in me to go to art college and carve my own career as a creative. To this day, Tom Langford swears he has no recollection of meeting me prior to my Potting Shed interview aged 26.
What Tom lacks in personal-event memory, he atones for in the ability to create bold leadership vision, and see it through to completion. Tom is the heart of a creative and the head of an accountant, a rare breed who sees spontaneity and predictability work harmoniously to create surprising yet successful results for clients and colleagues. He gets sh*t done, and has fun doing it.
I met up with him to talk about inspiration, festivals on Herm, and unadulterated happiness.
Hello Tom, first of all, tell us who you are, and what do you do at Potting shed?
I am Tom Langford and my role at Potting Shed is Managing Director (Guernsey).
What does an average day at work look like for you?
My average day at work has changed a lot in the last six months. Pre-Covid I used to be in the studio by around 6.30am most days, but the pandemic forced us all to create home working environments and so now I have a “proper” set up at home. We moved into our house 12 years ago and, at some point, one of the previous owners had built a garage-sized structure at the bottom of the garden (it’s far too big considering the very small size of the garden) which is now my home office.
So my average day looks something like this:
Get up, make coffee, work from my home office. I’m a slave to my to-do list so the first action is to check what I have on my list for the day. I do my best thinking first thing in the morning so I usually try and tackle the tasks which require more brainpower first thing.
Wake up my two eldest children (Lottie, 13 & Joey, 11) so that they aren’t late for their bus, then back to working at home.
Help get the older kids sorted and off to school. Get my youngest (Roo, 8) ready for school.
Head to the studio. Once I’m there I spend my day meeting clients (a lot more video calls these days), planning jobs, briefing jobs, adjusting the schedule (a never-ending task), talking with the rest of the team, writing client reports, liaising with the Management Team about the various tasks we have on the go for our own business progression, and working my way through my todo list.
Head home to the family.
So, you used to work on the tools as a creative, but now you work managing the studio, projects, and clients. How is that different? Do you think you have a unique perspective on understanding both roles?
Potting Shed is a creative agency run by creative people. All of the Directors were (or still are) the people who created the work for clients. This has been integral to the culture of our business - we value the creative output above all else.
For me personally, I think this has been both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I do understand some of the processes that a creative or designer has to go through in order to undertake a job. But on the other hand, I have been too prone to getting involved in the creative process.
When Ed Prow and myself took over as joint Managing Directors I stopped doing any creative work. Overnight, my role changed - instead of using InDesign to layout a new creative concept I was only using it to write client reports. It took a while for me to adjust but we are lucky to have creatives and designers at Potting Shed who are far better than I ever was, so I try my best to focus on providing them the best brief I can so that they can come up with better ideas than I ever could.
Overall I think it’s an advantage that I used to be “on the tools”; we never want to lose sight of the most important aspect of our business - producing beautiful creative, design, and digital which works to help grow our clients’ businesses.
What inspires you the most?
Unusually for a creative person, I’m quite analytical (I love a good spreadsheet). Our goal at Potting Shed is to help our clients grow. Whilst the effectiveness of marketing (particularly digital marketing) is relatively easy to measure, the effectiveness of brand is much more difficult.
I love working with clients who can see that their visual brand isn’t reflecting the quality of their product or service. They often don’t know why, or how to fix it - and that’s fine; that’s our job.
Working alongside a client to take the brand from something humdrum and boring (or just plain awful) and helping them to understand what it is that makes them different and then conveying that in a visual way, that’s an amazing experience.
Our clients have confidence in what their business offers. But seeing their confidence grow when we deliver a brand which reflects the quality of their service, or a marketing campaign that engages their audience, that’s gold.
My most satisfying experiences with clients are when we work with a client for a long period of time. Seeing them nervously embrace a bolder visual identity, encouraging them to put their head above the parapet and be noticed, and seeing the results - a business that grows.
If I asked you to think about 3 things you loved and 3 things you really can’t stand, what would they be?
Love: Family, Friends, Work
Hate: Negativity, A closed mind, Donald Trump
How can creativity change the world?
There’s no point banging on about how it might change the world in the future - the thing about creativity is that it’s a leap from A to Z that doesn’t take the traditional, rational path (if there was a nice neat formula for creativity then everyone would be able to do it). So it’s impossible to know how creativity can change the world in the future. But it will. You only have to look to the past.
Music has changed the world. Aside from the obvious positivity that it brings to millions of people every day just look at Live Aid. A creative undertaking that saved lives.
Literature has changed the world. Stories (they called them essays but they were just stories) written by the likes of Alexander Hamilton helped build the most powerful country on the planet.
Visual art has changed the world. The way that we perceive the world is constantly being challenged and changed by people who think differently than us.
TV has changed the world. You only have to look at the volume of documentaries on Netflix about climate change to see that the medium of TV is educating and inspiring people to take action.
Even advertising can change the world. Apple’s 1984 advert was only run in full once (the 1984 Super Bowl) but changed the face of technology forever.
On a smaller, more personal level, creativity has the ability to inspire others into action of their own. Reading a moving novel might inspire you to be more kind. Listening to a podcast about the power of behavioral economics might inspire a career change. Watching a movie about the struggles of an orphan might inspire someone to foster a child.
In your opinion, what is the difference between a good brand, and a great brand?
Most creatives or designers can create a good brand; something that stands out and gets noticed, and is memorable to a degree. A great brand does all of that but, crucially, has authenticity. It nods to the culture of the company; it embodies the passion behind the founder’s ideals; it represents the goals and aspirations for where the business wants to be.
The Island of Herm are starting a new music festival next year, they want you to name the festival and choose 3 headliners for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. What have you got?
Title: Smells Like Tom’s Teen Spirit
What are you learning at the moment?
I’m trying to improve my creative writing skills. I’m looking into courses at the moment so if anyone knows of any good online ones, please let me know.
What popular quote or saying do people spout as iconic but is actually complete BS?
"A good idea can come from anywhere.”
What film do you absolutely love that is actually pretty terrible?
This is really hard! All movies I love are, by definition, good. But I checked a few lists of films considered to be terrible. I didn’t “love” any of them, therefore I must have very good taste.
If you were given a one-minute ad slot during the Super Bowl that you couldn’t sell, what would you fill it with?
This video of Roo, age 4, reciting Little Rabbit Foo Foo (a very strange poem she learned at school). It is probably the most unadulterated happiness I have ever seen in my life.
If everyone watching the Super Bowl saw this video, the world would be a better place.
Read our Shed Sessions with Al, Tabitha, Keelie, David, and RJ.